The Doing Good blog follows area charities and social service agencies.

About Amy Umble: Amy Umble writes about religion and social issues affecting the Fredericksburg community. You can email her at

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Random Acts of Kindness help family face battles

Yesterday, I happened upon an Angel Tree at the grocery store. I looked at the tree, full of paper angels and immediately felt overwhelmed. So many children still need help this Christmas. And I knew those angel tags represented only a small portion of area children who need help.

Since I became a social services reporter five years ago, the holidays have always been filled with a small but pervasive sense of desperation, an awareness of how many people don’t have lives that would fit into a made-for-TV Christmas movie.

But each year, I have also been able to witness so many amazing efforts–the kind that are too good, too real for those TV movies.

This year, one of those comes courtesy of a very dear friend, Mandy Roberts (That’s her in these pictures. You can learn more about the photographer here.). We’ve been friends since I moved to Fredericksburg at the age of 15. Mandy reached out to me when I didn’t know anyone. If you’ve ever been a 15-year-old girl, you know how important that was for me. It’s been quite a few years since then, and she’s still  that generous person, even though those intervening years have been filled with challenges for Mandy and her family.

Four years ago, Mandy and her husband welcomed their fifth child–a girl born with a congenital heart defect, which required three open-heart surgeries before Camille’s third birthday.

Just as things were settling down with Camille, Mandy started forgetting how to do routine tasks. She struggled to remember words. Her speech began to slur at times. And then she fainted while on a weekend trip. Doctors discovered a brain tumor last November. With five children, a dog and cancer, most people would circle the wagons. But Mandy is still reaching out.

This year, she decided to count down to her birthday, which is on Dec. 9, with a celebration of random acts of kindness. Mandy and her family have been doing at least one act each day for the month before her birthday. And she created a Facebook group so people could join in and share their kindness. It’s been so inspirational to get to log in and see what people are doing to help others. The acts range from those that are spontaneous and cost nothing–helping an older lady to her car in the parking lot–to those that require planning and money–making care packages for chemo patients.

I wanted to share some of the inspiration from this group–and Mandy was kind enough to agree to a Q and A. I was just going to share some random snippets but I found all of her answers so inspiring that I decided to just run it as is (even though you will all now know my secret: Interviewing isn’t my strong suit):

1. What inspired you to create this project?

Over the last several years I have been the recipient of so many acts of kindness. We have had people come from near and far pour out their love on us and I really felt the need to both express to them (many of whom are unknown to me) my appreciation and also to pay it forward. I have seen other projects of this sort and I thought it would be a great way to encourage others and share what we are all doing. I hear from many people about the evilness of people and how selfish the world is now, but there are, in large part, great people in the world going about their lives and helping people along the way. They are not there to get recognition or praise, but just serving others as they go about living their lives. We can all use some examples of this to reinvigorate a desire to do good. I love the quote “Be kinder than necessary, everyone is fighting a battle.” It is so true. Everyone needs the kindness of strangers.

2. Has anything surprised you?

I am surprised by the number of people willing to follow me on this adventure. I am not surprised by their good works (they are already doing these acts), but I am surprised by how many people have joined in and shared experiences.

3. What do you think of the response?

 I’m not really a prolific poster on Facebook, so I’ve been impressed by the response, but I would love it if even more joined in.  It is a little uncomfortable putting it out there (we don’t do it for praise) but we can all benefit by seeing the good that is around us.

4. Any Advice?

Just do it? I don’t have too much advice other than that. This is my first experience trying to organize a project like this, but it really does come down to just doing it. Other people around you sometimes need the extra encouragement to just brush it off and be nice.

5. Where did you find ideas?

I am a Pinterest junkie. I am not very good at coming up with my own ideas so I love Pinterest, which is a compilation of everyone else’s ideas. I took largely from that. I also have a few organizations and people that have touched my life and I tried to directly donate to those. Many of these donations have been something I have been meaning to do for a long time, I just need the extra umph to actually do it.

I have also been looking around our community and finding places where my family and I can serve. There are so many! We can be of use everywhere if we look. And sometimes the places to serve just fall in our laps, we don’t have to look at all. We just need to be willing to be kind.

6. Anything else you think people should know?

As you know, I have brain cancer, and I am only 37, with five kids. I find people asking me all the time, “How do you do it, how can you smile through this?” They tell me “I would be so depressed, I don’t know what I would do, etc…”

The truth is that it is a scary place to be. If I am thinking logically about the situation, I know that my life will be shortened and there will be many things in my children’s lives that I will miss out on. I will leave my dear husband with five children to raise. I will leave my precious children without a mother. That’s just how this cancer goes. I try not to think about it like that too often, but what I do try to think about is how do I want my life to be remembered. I want to be remembered as a kind, loving, generous person who saw the good in the world and did my best to improve the world around me. I want my children to grow up with that attitude and to know that it is their responsibility to make the world a better place. We can make a difference. Even if it is a tiny random act of kindness.